Sunday, July 19, 2015

So retro....The Artist's Way

My '90's-era guide to finding my inner artist.
Even though I was born in the 1950's, I have always been a late-bloomer. When I sit in the dentist's chair and am given free reign on what satellite music station I want to listen to, I pick the '80s for the later music of Ambrosia, Stephen Bishop, Hall & Oates, Earth, Wind & Fire. It makes me think of boyfriends and beaches. Like I was born 10 years later than I actually was. Still slightly flakey.

So I grew up a little delayed and by the 90's - turning 40 and already having blown through a marriage and looking for my calling - I was needing a bit of introspection and direction and I came upon The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron at some point in the middle of that decade, a 12-week "recovery" program. Originally published in 1992, The Artist's Way is subtitled, "A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity." This was right up my middle-of-life-needing-to-find-myself-in-a-Jungian-kind-of-way alley.

In earnest about finding the meaning of life, Joseph Campbell did that blockbuster of a series, "The Power of Myth" with Bill Moyers for PBS in 1988 and I think I saw that at least five times on TV, then bought the videotape set. Lee, my husband bought his own set. (Must say: If you haven't seen it, do.)

I was hungry for insight and bliss and a path.

Then, at some point after 1996, the year I married Lee,  I found The Artist's Way. I bought it. I opened it. I inhaled it. I needed to recover my wounded artist.

I had kept a journal most of my life - especially during my 20's, writing almost daily mostly about life and love, with the occasional note about how I felt about my weight. The currency of beauty! Yuck. So writing was not foreign to me. But to do so in a focused, guided way felt like being taken over by angels who just tell you what to do.

Now, some 16 - 20 years later (depending on when I actually did it the first time) I am doing it again. With Lee. Which is just the greatest, sexiest, bonding love thing for me. I'm a total sap for artistic men. He's doing his writing. I'm doing mine.

The point of the book is that we have, for a potluck of reasons, abandoned our artistic, creative selves. Not like everyone wants to be artistic - or be an artist - but for those of us who do, there are so many lame excuses for why we can't pursue those dreams. The process is simple and brilliant and lasts for twelve weeks - more than enough time for that changing a habit idea to take root.

Step One: Write every single morning - three pages - just a brain dump if that's all you got.
Step Two: Take yourself on an artist date every single week. Like a child. Take it out for ice cream and a trip to Disney World. But, really, it doesn't have to be Disney World. It can be anything that makes your heart sing and takes you away from the battery of voices in your head that tell you why you can't be an artist.
Step Three: Do the weekly "tasks" - just guided writing.

For my Artist Dates, I have taken a walk to Loring Park, sat on a bench and looked at the summer flowers. I have spent the night looking at the stars over Lake Sylvia, the kind of stars I remembered from growing up on an Iowa farm - holy and present in a way they never are in a city.
Today, I decided "No work! No balancing checkbooks! No checking delivery dates for furniture!" to set free the right side of my brain. But, for this to happen, I had to leave my apartment. So I went to Northfield to visit my mother, eat deviled eggs and a salted, sliced tomato with her on her patio, then to the new bookstore, Content, on the main street in Northfield to browse the employee's recommended selections laid out on the displays. I bought five books, so happy was I to be in the presence of real words on real bound paper. Not a photo of a book cover on the Amazon website. I signed up for their reading program. I pulled out my debit card. I signed on the line. I did not "click" anything on a computer screen. It was mind-boggling to buy books while interacting with an intelligent, thoughtful human being.

Summer Reading.

Then I went across the street to get coffee at Blue Monday, the kind of coffee shop I wish we had in Minneapolis. Maybe one still exists...near the U? Anyone know? Most have been "done." Even the good ones. Lots of old barns torn down to make them look cool and not contrived. But, really, they end up looking contrived. Because....barns. Sure. Urban Minneapolis has lots of barns, right?

I diverge.

These "dates" and the writing are proving to be profound in their capacity to create a kind of emotional / ideological shift. Like an earthquake - or more to the point - a tectonic shift - a small one, ideas start popping out of the crevices, released from the movement of the work. Tonight, after writing for two full weeks, my mind is trying to catch the yard of fireflies of ideas zapping around me. It's both inspiring and overwhelming. Which one do you catch?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, SC

I was taking a photo of the moon over over church when I was there a few weeks ago. Just walking home around 10:30 at night after hearing Madeleine Peyroux at the College of Charleston Cistern (a beautiful outdoor starry night setting) Here, the church still had a lovely peace about it, just a simple white, classic African American church in the middle of Charleston. Always a city quiet at this time of night with the college kids (thankfully!) gone for the summer.

I'll write more, but just found this innocent photo moments ago. It is taken from the back of the church where the assassin parked. This is 1/2 block from our home - the site we pass when we walk toward Meeting or King Street or Marion Square for the Farmer's Market. The front of the church supports the beautiful steeple.

God bless you, Mother Emanuel.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Heart-break: Moment of being

My writing coach, Patricia Francisco, worked with me on the lovely, lovely concept of "moments of being." Virginia Woolf used the phrase in her work "Sketches from the Past" to describe those times / moments when we experience a deep knowing, understanding, insight or reality. She was, at the time, working with her own memories, especially from her childhood.

Little, big, in-the-middle sized memories of moments that are not forgotten because they become the architecture of a life. I appreciate how small the moments can be.

What I think is profound is to notice the moment as it happens - to be in the experience and to be observing the experience at the same time. Is that what forms memory? Do we have to be consciously observing to have it become memory? I don't know the answer to that.

I just know that this morning I had an experience that felt like that, and I wanted to write it down. Here it is:

I’m in my blue chambray pajamas. They are too big for me, but I like feeling smaller than I am because of that. They drag on the floor and the sleeves fall at my fingertips without rolling a cuff. I stand at the stove, stirring the spinach and onions in the black cast iron skillet. I’m making an omelet for Lee. He cleans out the Italian stovetop espresso pot, which is always a mess. He makes me cappuccino every morning. Today’s cup was perfect.
And now, from the area of my heart, I start to quake. A feeling begins to erupt, like a little bird nosing its way out of its shell, cracking softly. The spinach and onion blur as my eyes fill with tears.
“I feel so much emotion,” I say, naming the obvious.
Lee turns my way and smiles. “Here, making an omelet?” 
“I know I won’t be able to make you an omelet forever.  I know the day will come when we won’t do this together, here in the kitchen, quietly working side by side. Each of us just doing the simplest thing. For each other.”

He moves to put his arms around me and holds me there with my pajamas dragging on the tile floor. Then I go back to the stove and pour the eggs into the pan. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

SPOLETO: Art in the City

I've learned that a lot of people haven't heard of Spoleto; I'm sure I wouldn't have if I hadn't lived here in Charleston years ago. So I'll start with a tutorial right from Wikipedia...they say it well:

Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, is one of America's major performing arts festivals. It was founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who sought to establish a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (The Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.
When Italian organizers planned an American festival, they searched for a city that would offer the charm of Spoleto, Italy, and also its wealth of theaters, churches, and other performance spaces. Charleston was selected as an ideal location, with Menotti saying of Charleston:
 It's intimate, so you can walk from one theatre to the next. It has Old World charm in architecture and gardens. Yet it's a community big enough to support the large number of visitors to the festival.[1]
     The annual 17-day late-spring event showcases both established and emerging artists
     in more than 150 performances of opera, dance, theater, classical music, and jazz.
So, there you go. That's what we are up to these days. SPOLETO!
Opening Day Event
It started last night and our first performance was Romeo and Juliet at the Dock Street Theater - a spectacular small theater built in oh who knows when, but considered the first theatre in America. It is sooooo beautiful and of the sweetest scale. And for me, it has the lingering memories of the days I actually acted upon that stage in a couple of plays here in Charleston and created the costumes for other plays. 
Lee and I agree that the play, performed by the Globe Theatre of London was a bit of a let down. The acting was fine. But I am such a fan of Romeo and Juliet, I just don't know how you can do this play without enough passion to almost burn the house down. But, it is exciting to see people actually choosing to be performers for a living. I love this. I appreciate this. And there were several especially fine performances! It just didn't sing as a whole.
But, all that said...they were really cute! And here they are performing in the streets earlier in the day.
Players from the Globe Theater of London 
Walking home at 11:00 at night, the moon lit the way and the stars sparkled. The big dipper hung over us in the navy night sky. The steeple of St. Phillips was a monument of limestone pointing to the stars. So the night, as a whole, was so charming. To get dressed and look at my husband in his Italian linen suit with the pocket square, his cropped beard, his Ray-Bans as we walked to the theater in the sunlight, then home, hand in hand after the play. This was all sweet. 
Today we went to a chamber music concert - again at the Dock Street Theater - the same LOVELY 15 minute walk from our home - and it was fantastic. The moment it began with eight musicians on stage, featuring oboe, violin and harpsicord, a thrill moved through me - through my heart - and I was so happy to be in that seat. The second piece was contemporary, experimental and probably will be forgotten next week, but the first and third pieces - Vivaldi and Dvorak were so very beautiful and to think that you are spending a Saturday afternoon with these musicians who are so enjoying their lives in this moment, so into it, so generous.
Performers from the Chamber Music Performance today

Walking out into the afternoon, 75, dry, blue sky and breezy, we walked the long way home to take in the view of the harbor. Then I settled into my chair on the porch (working on that word "piazza" but it just doesn't stick for me) and dozed off in the breeze off the Ashley River.

Next week: Emmy Lou Harris. Madeleine Peyroux and Westminster Choir!

Madleine Peyroux - next week!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Slow Living in Charleston

I've had this slow living thing on my mind lately. Well, I arrived in Charleston yesterday, catching up with Lee who had been here since Thursday to work on the the school. Arriving on a Saturday was brilliant, and I will take note. It meant I didn't feel one ounce of compunction to work! The most "work" I did was thoroughly enjoyable. Buy flowers for the apartment, throw a table cloth on the piazza dining table, fluff the cushions, fill the frig.

Today we started the day with Lee's most excellent cappuccino on the piazza. When I walked out this morning in my p.j.s to have coffee I almost cried. The morning was still and sweet and 72 degrees and I couldn't tell my outside from my inside except for the fragrance of jasmine that permeated the air floating around me. That, and the morning swallows out for their own breakfast.

By 9:00 we decided to drive to the beach for our walk. And in no time, only 20 minutes later, we were trekking on the boardwalk to the beach. We planted our beach chairs, then set out to walk 3 miles, enjoying the children up early and digging in the sand, the dogs, dogs, dogs playing catch with balls and prancing in the water, the pick-up softball games with kids and dads and a metal rod for a bat.

The rest of the day was so slow. I have not been able to say I've had a slow day in years. Decades? Today passed slowly. After walking on the beach, we came home and, except for walking to King Street for an errand, I spent the day on the porch (piazza!) in the big old wicker chair with feather cushions reading my book of essays, working on my book and talking to Lee.

I did take a shower. And walk to dinner. Then walk home. And discovered a flower I've never seen or remembered seeing. And am now waiting for Mad Men to 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast! But who cares? What else is there to do?

Where I spent most of the day - in that wicker chair on the right.

Our beach chairs on Sullivan's Island.

Lee. Reading. Beach. Three of my favorite things.

This is real. I took this photo today. Can you smell it? A magnolia.
A Southern magnolia. Not the kind we have in Minnesota.


We saw this on our way home from dinner. What the heck beautiful flower is this???
Hint: It is a creeping flowering jasmine.

This is what it looks like tucked among its leaves and other flowers. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Back in Charleston - and building its first Waldorf School

Header final2.jpeg

Joined Lee in Charleston today. He came a couple days early to work on the Waldorf school we are going to create here....The Acorn School of Charleston.
Yep, going to happen.

And just in sync...the New York Times publishes this piece for the Sunday paper. This was the topic of Lee's presentation today at an information meeting. 

I feel so frustrated by our educational system in this country. We use our children as guinea pigs - let's try this, let's try that. And then, worst of all, we project our own fears onto our children. OMG....what if they aren't reading at 6! Are they damaged? Do they need special help? Are they on the "spectrum?"

So much pressure on kids. So much garbage. 

I feel so happy to be working on creating a Waldorf School with Lee here in Charleston. Waldorf's attitude is "the later the better" - not "the sooner the better."

Slow food? Why not Slow Childhood?

Oh, and in service of shameless self-promotion, here is the website for the school:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Longest Hiatus Ever.....but back for Mother's Day. "Motherhood: The Default Setting"

Motherhood: The Default Setting
Written Spring 2007

My default setting is “Motherhood.” It is in the “locked” position and takes clever technical maneuvering to change the setting. Like, sending my almost independent children away for long periods of time to faraway places so that I don’t have to feed them or edit their English papers. Only then can I unlock the setting for a few days…survive on salads, soup, wine and work. Until they return – when I predictably head for the grocery store, ashamed of the depleted refrigerator, and rev up the nagging about the state of their bedroom and the cat box and hover over what is going into their mouths. “Don’t drink sodas. Please. I didn’t raise you to drink soda.” This kind of hovering sometimes even keeps me from working, which I do from home, in full view of too many of their activities. And, working is not optional.
I am 53 years old, working hard for a late-blooming career I love, but today I was involuntarily drawn back into the drama of motherhood: where will my 17-year old daughter go to college? Earlier this week, we returned from a two-day pilgrimage to Madison, Wisconsin in hopes of finding the Holy Grail of College Educations at the University of Wisconsin. It’s affordable. It’s highly ranked. Sounds promising and easy. I drove the 5 hours there and the 5 hours home listening to the Dixie Chicks singing about how they are still “mad as hell” and we both got sufficiently worked up over the heated lyrics, joining in on the chorus. Until, we couldn’t stand it any more. Then I turned on All Things Considered and she took a nap.
 We hiked around the campus of 40,000 students for 2.5 hours in wind and cold.  We drank more than our share of cappuccino, observing the packed house of slightly alternative college students doing whatever they do in coffee shops, the whole setting looking like an ad for Mac laptops. She bought a UW trucker’s hat and felt right at home in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. Things at Madison are “chill,” according to her. I think I know what that means and I had to agree, although I would have used a different adjective. I was served wine at the local Mexican restaurant out of a massively over-sized wine glass. If this is what they mean when they say it is a drinking school, I am officially worried. This wine glass was larger than the water pitcher and we have photos to prove it.
I have wondered if the school is too big for her, that she will get “lost,” too much anonymity. So, we visited a class, the large lecture with over a hundred sleepy-looking students called “Communication and Human Behavior.” The professor asked a question – one of those things you might know even if you hadn’t read the material. No one responded and that annoyed her. She raised her hand, was called on and answered the question. Clearly, she’ll be fine at Madison. We thought it was settled.
Finally, I can get back to work.
            Then today, she heard from five more colleges. She applied to this vast number of colleges with the philosophy “Cast a wide net,” because she needed to increase her chances of a strong financial aid package. And she got in to all of them. We are mostly just stunned. And so, once again, I am derailed by demands for decisions, travel plans, discussions about preferences, financial aid, climate and fashion at each of the said schools.
I have work to do. I support my children and myself. I have magazine stories I should be pitching. I should be at the tile store, selecting tile for my client’s bathroom. I should be filing papers and balancing checking accounts and doing my job. I should be working. But I am so absorbed by the energy surrounding her right now – some of it flattering, much of it overwhelming – that I cannot concentrate and I see some modest need for keeping her focused on one step at a time, except that I am not very good at that myself. There are calls to make about campus visits, flights to book, budgets for all this to consider, bosses to email for time off (for her), and friends to tell. We walk around the lake together to talk it out. I should be returning emails.
            But how many more days will I have to walk the lake with Isabelle? She is 17, a senior, leaving home in a few months and never coming back in the same way. How many more times will she show me the prom dress she thinks is cute and what do I think, should she buy it on the Nordstrom website? How many times will we get silly taking photos of the mammoth wine glass at the rinky-dink Mexican restaurant? How many more times will she ask me if I think there is pork fat in the refried beans, meaning she cannot eat it, the vegetarian that she is and has been since she was five? I will miss her. For three years, I have missed my son, Zan, who went to D.C. for college, to Paris and back, and who, thankfully, still emails me his college papers for review on occasion, but is really gone for good, I can tell.

I am a mother first and foremost and I don’t know how to stop it. The setting is genetically and psychically in a locked position. This is costing me money, the money I need to buy the prom dress and pay for her college tuition bills that will begin to arrive soon. But, I wouldn’t miss this for anything.